Human Rights in Czechoslovakia: The Documents of Charter '77, 1977-1982Thursday, July 01, 1982
The documents in this publication reflect the efforts of Czechoslovak citizens to express their opinions on issues of importance to them and on rights guaranteed to them under Czechoslovak law, the Helsinki Final Act, and other international agreements. In Principle VII of the Helsinki Final Act, the participating States confirmed the "right of the individual to know and act upon his rights." They also agreed to "promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person..." The signatories further pledged to "recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience." Sadly, these noble words ring hollow in Czechoslovakia, one of the 35 signatories to the Helsinki Final Act. In an effort to improve their country's adherence to the principles and spirit of the Helsinki document during the last five years -- over 1,000 czechoslovak citizens -- workers, scholars, clergymen, professionais, students, government employees, scientists and others -- have affixed their names to the manifesto of human rights known as Charter 77. Many have also worked actively with VONS -- the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted -- to report and document violations of basic human freedoms. While in most signatory countries these efforts on behalf of human rights would be applauded and rewarded, in Czechoslovakia both signers of Charter 77 and members of VONS have fallen victim to unrelenting government repression. Charter 77 clearly emphasizes that its aim is not to change the existing sociai system, but simply to demonstrate the need for "observance of laws" -- both domestic and international -- by the Czechoslovak authorities. As an example of this committment to international law and other agreements, Charter 77 called upon the Czechosiovak delegation to the Madrid Meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to honor its word and implement all the provisions of the helsinki Final Act, including Principle ViI. The constant surveillance, house searches, detentions, arrests, beatings and terms of imprisonment to which these courageous men and women are subjected are difficult to reconcile with the statements attesting to full implementation presented by the Czechoslovak delegations to both the Belgrade and Madrid review meetings.
Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol I - Human Rights and ContactsWednesday, February 23, 1977
This hearing focused on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords and explored proposals for advancing compliance. The Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the accords could better East-West relations. They discussed how the framework of the Helsinki accords helps provide protection against armed intervention in internal affairs, or the threat of such intervention. The Commissioners heard testimonies from those working on human rights in Warsaw Pact countries and from many American citizens seeking reunification with relatives in Warsaw Pact countries.
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
The Helsinki Commission has exceptionally long engagement on Slovakia, issuing its first report on developments there in 1990.
In 1992, Czechoslovakia chaired the OSCE, with Jiri Dienstbier representing the country for the first six months, followed by Josef Moravcik for the remainder of the year.
The Czechoslovakia Federation dissolved on January 1, 1993 and the Czech and Slovak Republics became independent states. The Commission actively engaged on what was initially a rocky transition to democracy and respect for human rights through the period when Slovakia became a net exporter of expertise on democratic transitions. Slovakia has become a strong partner to the United States in many areas and Helsinki Commissioners have led two delegations to Bratislava. Helsinki Commissioners continue to encourage Slovakia to improve the protection of human rights for members of the Romani minority, including by addressing past sterilization without informed consent.
Staff Contact: Erika Schlager, counsel for international law